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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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A Good Name Is Better Than Good Oil


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I visited the cemetery with my friend during Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. After visiting my grandfather, z”l, we visited my friend’s husband’s family. As we were wending our way among the graves and discussing names, she pointed out that her newest granddaughter is named after her husband’s mother, a”h. Then she told me two stories about her family.

About 40 years ago, a young couple had a baby boy. Because there was no ultrasound at the time, they didn’t know the sex of the baby before it was born. The argument began in the delivery room. Both the mother and father’s fathers were named Yosef. The mother was Ashkenazi and the father Sephardic. According to Sephardic custom, a baby is named after living relatives to bring them honor. The baby’s father wanted to name the baby Yosef in order to honor his father. According to Ashkenazi tradition, a child is named after deceased relatives. The mother’s father protested that they were trying to bury him.

As the week before the bris progressed, the situation was getting tenser. The situation got so bad that the couple was considering divorce. Acting on someone’s suggestion the baby’s father went to a rav, who arrived at a brilliant solution. “Call the baby Yoav,” the rav said. That name included the first two letters of Yosef, plus the word “father.” (The name means that Hashem is my father.) Everybody liked the solution, and the two fathers made a l’chaim to Yoav at the bris.

My friend’s mother met her husband when they both fled Poland at the beginning of World War II. They sought refuge in the forests of Siberia. There she gave birth to a boy. Her father’s name had been Avraham Yona and her husband’s name was Yitzchak Yona, so she called the child Avraham. The conditions in Siberia during World War II were not ideal, and the child died before the age of three. His mother was certain it had something to do with his given name even though she hadn’t given him the common middle name, Yona.

As a result, she never requested that her son and daughter name their children Avraham. But 40 years later, when her son, who knew the story of his late baby brother, adopted a six-month-old baby boy, he asked her for permission to name him Avichai – my father lives (or Hashem lives, or Avraham lives). She consented, and the name had its tikun in the family.

Two similar names, two family stories. Shakespeare was wrong, as there is a lot in a name. According to Jewish tradition, parents receive Divine inspiration when choosing a name for their newborn. And the family usually provides a story to go along with the choosing of the name.

A story with this message: Hashem is my Father and my Father lives!

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